The FeedBurner Question

fblogo.pngWhen I started Plagiarism Today approximately two and a half years ago, FeedBurner seemed like a Godsend. Not only was it a powerful way to track your feed’s usage, but it was also an easy way to customize the feed’s features, all while ensuring compatibility across the board.

FeedBurner took the complicated black art of feed management/tracking and whittled down into an easy “set and forget” service.

The case for FeedBurner was further bolstered in March of last year when it released its “Uncommon Uses” feature. With that upgrade, FeedBurner also become the most powerful tool available for fighting scraping.

However, since then, plugins such as AntiLeech and CopyFeed have become popular and widely used, giving new powers to those who host their own feed. Meanwhile, FeedBurner was acquired by Google and the entire service seems to have shifted its focus.

Now, with those developments in mind, it is time to take another look at FeedBurner and decide if the trade off is worth it or not.

The Case For FreedBurner

Those who support FeedBurner note that the service has a set of powerful features for bloggers. They offer statistic tracking, customization and feed monitoring. It also offloads the feed to their servers, great for sites with a lot of feed subscribers, and ensures that the feed remains active even if the original site goes down.

Because of the appeal of those services, they have been picked to manage well over 1.1 million feeds and tens of millions of subscriptions. This has given them an almost God-like understanding of how feeds are used and where they are used.

That knowledge is put to use in their uncommon uses feature, which tracks uses of your feed that don’t fit the typical pattern. You can check your uncommon uses dialog on a regular basis and discover at least some cases of feed scraping.

FeedBurner also has the ability to perform many plugin-like functions from within their system. You can add copyright notices to your feed, affix a Creative Commons License or create a summary feed if you wish, all without modifying your original feed.

All of this is from a service that, since the purchase by Google, is completely free and is filled with other great features such as chicklets, feed counters and a robust API.

To fans of FeedBurner, there is no question, FeedBurner is a powerful service that provides important features at a price you can not beat.

The Case Against FeedBurner

When you offload your RSS feed to a third party, as with FeedBurner, it comes with drawbacks. The biggest is that you lose all ability to block any scraping of your feed.

WordPress users who have their own server and host their own feed can take advantage of plugins such as AntiLeech and CopyFeed, both of which make it possible to block abuse of the feed before it happens. Meanwhile, FeedBurner has gone on the record saying that they “cannot remove your feed from sites which have resyndicated the content.”

This means that, by in large, FeedBurner users have to focus on detecting scraping and stopping it, rather than blocking it at the source.

However, those detection tools seem to be somewhat flawed as well. Though their uncommon uses tool is powerful, mine seems to report my site as being the number one uncommon use.

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As scraping has moved away from traditional RSS republishing and into scraping search results and summaries from third parties, the power of the uncommon uses tool wanes. Simply put, scrapers just aren’t grabbing the original feed at the rate they used to.

Since most of FeedBurner’s features can be mimicked using other tools that don’t require you to offload your feed, many feel that it is time to abandon the service and take direct control of our RSS content.

Conclusions

There are no easy answers here. The only universal truth that I see is that FeedBurner is a must-have for anyone using a Blogspost, WordPress.com, or other free blogging service. Since you don’t have direct control over your feed to begin with, you sacrifice nothing by using FeedBurner and gain a wealth of information and tools.

But for those of us with our own servers, the choice is more difficult. FeedBurner might make sense on sites where the feed traffic is very high and could cause a drain on the service. It also makes sense if there are reliability issues that could negatively impact the user experience.

However, for most users, it would seem that you can get more features and better protection by learning the tools available to you and taking control of your own feed. That being said, those without a lot of computer experience may benefit from FeedBurner, but would still likely be better served by hitting the books.

Personally, I’ve had a growing case of “buyers remorse” in the past year since I wrote about this issue. I’ve been reading closely the FeedBurner exit strategy and considering the move.

I haven’t done it yet, largely because I fear losing subscribers and do enjoy many of the features of FeedBurner, including the reliability, but there is little doubt in my mind, and in the mind of others that I’ve talked with, that FeedBurner has stepped away from this issue for the most part and that has sped up greatly since the acquisition.

Still, I want to leave the question with you, is FeedBurner a service to use or a service to avoid? If you were starting a site today, what choice would you make?

Leave a comment below or drop me a line with your thoughts.

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